The Thames Gateway is no stranger to difficult times and at the fifth annual Thames Gateway Forum the nervousness was tangible.
Housing minister Margaret Beckett was clearly trying to keep chins up. In her opening address, she again reiterated the government’s support for the Gateway, saying the ‘concerted and comprehensive plan’ for the regeneration of the area provided the right mix of short-term help for businesses and families in the current economic climate, ‘while at the same time, preparing the economy for the future’.
She went on to say ‘at a time like this, if the Gateway programme hadn’t existed, we’d have had to invent it'.
Beckett's ‘we’re still committed but remember you’ve got it lucky’ message reoccurred in one of the conference modules, which focused on the ‘Big Four’ economic transformers of the Thames Gateway: Ebbsfleet Valley, London Gateway, the Lower Lea Valley and Canary Wharf.
Howard Dawber of the Canary Wharf Group said that ‘most cities in the world’ would be pleased to have such investments as Crossrail and the Olympic Park in a time of such financial turbulence. He went on to unveil an ambitious map of Canary Wharf’s planned growth of 1.14 million square metres – with,740,000m2 ready to go and the other 400,000m2 pre-let or sold. Despite trouble in the financial sector, JP Morgan signed last week on Rogers Stirk Harbour’s 176,000m2 Riverside South development, due for completion in 2013.
Housing is clearly not faring as well, despite being the top priority of the Homes and Communities Agency's incoming London regional director David Lunts.
Steve McGucking, heading up Land Securities’ interests in the Ebbsfleet Valley, admitted that although 40 homes had been built and sold this year at the company’s Springhead Park development, the planned Castle Hill development involving architects S333, Spacecraft and Proctor and Matthews, due to begin on site in summer 2009, has been put on hold.
John Shimmen, development director of Stratford City, also said that although the Westfield Stratford shopping centre would be opening in February 2011, the associated phase one housing has stalled, although the developer is ‘working with the local authority to take it forward’.
Forum insider: all the news and gossip from the Thames Gateway Forum